Book: House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds

Big in some ways, less so in others

Alastair Reynolds
House of Suns
Gollancz, 2008
ISBN: 978 0 57507 7 171
473 pages
UKP 18.99

House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds is a big book. And by that I don't mean just that it's 473 pages long. The background for the story is a pretty prodigious feat of world-building. Or maybe galaxy-building would be a better term.

It's a little hard to know how much to say about the book's plot because Mr Reynolds chooses not to reveal some things until the story is fairly far along. I'll err on the side of caution since you can get a detailed summary of the plot if you want one. The main part of the story is told by two "shatterlings", Campion and Purslane. They each tell the story in the first person, without any obvious indication of a change of point of view, which can be a bit confusing at first. Campion is a man and Purslane is a woman and they are defying some sort of social prohibition against shatterlings "consorting". They're both millions of years old, at least from most folks' point of view. They have spent a lot of that time at speeds that create a good deal of relativistic time dilation or in one or another sort of stasis. Still, that gives them an interesting perspective on the transitory quality of human civilizations in the galaxy. As the book begins, they're on their way to a reunion and they're aware that they're going to be very late. When they arrive, something has happened and that's related to something else that happened long ago.

Interspersed with the chapters narrated by Campion and Purslane are chapters narrated by a girl named Abigail. The events she describes take place a great many years earlier. Abigail lives in an unusual house in a volume of space called the Golden Hour. It's called that because its farthest points are a light-hour apart. Abigail has an interesting virtual-reality game that she plays with a boy who occasionally comes to visit. Of course those two narrative threads are connected but it takes a while before it becomes clear just how.

The book is good space opera. The only disadvantage the book has is that if you took out the flashbacks and the slow revelation and told the story in the simplest possible way, you might find the plot a bit thin. That's not to say that I think that those are bad techniques for an author to use, but if readers have to remain in doubt for some considerable time about important parts of the story, I think that those parts should really be kind of fascinating when they are revealed. Not all of the details in House of Suns meet that test. Once I had finished it, it felt a bit slow and loosely-plotted. Perhaps it's not quite so big after all.

Still, I'd really like to visit Purslane's ship Silver Wings of Morning and meet Hesperus. That would be really fun.

Posted: Fri - November 7, 2008 at 03:56 PM   Main   Category: